Predictions 101 — Week 8

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We had an intriguing mixed bag last week, going 4-3 straight and 4-2-1 versus “the number.”

P101 desperately needs to stop backing Mack Brown in the Red River Shootout. But we nearly pegged “USC” at LSU on the dot. And it’s too bad we didn’t sub our Oregon State over BYU winner in for what seems to be a weekly miss with the Upset Special.

Oh well, on to this week’s selections.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Oct. 18, thru Sat., Oct. 20)

1) No. 9 South Carolina at No. 3 Florida
Sat., Oct. 20 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

We love this sort of old school showdown. Run the ball. Play defense. Games that are decided in the trenches warm our hearts.

The Gator ground game pounded out 326 rushing yards at Vanderbilt last week with quarterback Jeff Driskel accounting for 177 of them. Florida, of course, won’t enjoy that kind of freedom against South Carolina’s defense.

The Gamecocks rank fifth in the country in scoring defense (12.29 points allowed per game) and 12th in total defense (296.29 yards).

Florida has a wicked stop unit of its own that’s statistically a mirror image of South Carolina, ranking just one step below in each category — sixth in scoring (12.33) and 13th in total defense (297.17).

If the Gamecocks are going to win this one on the road and claim their first three-game winning streak over the Gators, they’ll have to start quickly.

Florida has been particularly dominant in second halves this season, outscoring foes, 98-23. Furthermore, the Gators have allowed just one touchdown and a field goal in the fourth quarter this year.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the stats, but the Florida offensive line was banged up last week. Three starters are expected to return to the lineup for South Carolina’s visit. Having all hands on deck will be a great benefit to Gator offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who lines up with seven offensive linemen at times.

That sort of variety and show of strength will serve Florida well in its attempt to neutralize South Carolina’s elite front seven, which is based on quickness and anchored by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

In these types of games, field position on the gridiron makes all the difference. That leads us to punting, yes punting. The Gators rank fourth in the nation in net punting. The Gamecocks are 104th.

Opening point spread: Florida by 3 1/2

The pick: Florida 23-17

2) No. 4 Kansas State at No. 17 West Virginia
Sat., Oct. 20 — 7 p.m. ET, FOX

This is a tough one to call. If fists were able to be thrown during a conference call, they would have been flying between P101 pugilists/predictors.

As always, it doesn’t really matter what we argue about. In this case, it depends on which Mountaineer team shows up. Since the game is being contested in Morgantown, we’d be very surprised if Dana Holgorsen’s crew laid an egg that resembled last Saturday’s 49-14 loss at Texas Tech.

But at the same time, the two metrics we trust the most – running the football with a physical mindset and playing tough brand of disruptive defense – do not favor West Virginia in this matchup.

Wildcat quarterback Collin Klein is a warrior and a winner. In concert with running back John Hubert, the dual-threat triggerman directs a vicious option attack.

Although the Mountaineer defense ranks 109th in scoring defense (37.3 points allowed per game) and 114th in total defense (496 yards), it has the ability to load up against the run, but Klein can hurt you with his arm, even though he won’t ever look pretty doing it.

Of course, West Virginia’s game is much more about outscoring you than stopping you. That’s all fine and dandy, until you get exposed.

The Mountaineers will have to figure out how to solve the kind of defense that Texas Tech successfully threw at them – a variety of zone coverages behind a three or four-man rush – for the rest of the season. Those non-blitz rushes were able to disrupt Geno Smith’s rhythm and the disciplined coverage schemes limited the all-important yards-after-catch.

If Mountaineer wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey can’t wiggle through enough seams within the semi-slow Wildcat secondary, Kansas State could be on it way. Bill Snynder’s only two remaining road games are at TCU and Baylor.

Opening point spread: West Virginia by 4 1/2

The pick: Kansas State 37-35

3) No. 6 LSU at No. 20 Texas A&M
Sat., Oct. 20 — Noon ET, ESPN

After opening the season with a 20-17 loss to Florida, the Aggies have reeled off five consecutive wins, scoring at least 48 points in four of those victories.

The dynamic offense triggered by ultra-athletic quarterback Johnny Manziel has been nothing but impressive. Kudos to Kevin Sumlin to getting the A&M attack ramped up so quickly.

It’s on the other side of the football that the Aggies have their concerns. Last Saturday, they surrendered 615 yards of total offense in a 59-57 close shave at Louisiana Tech.

With the LSU offense sputtering, especially in the red zone, this trip to Kyle Field might be just the right tonic for Les Miles and his struggling quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Opening point spread: LSU by 3

The pick: LSU 28-23

4) No. 18 Texas Tech at TCU
Sat., Oct. 20 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

Fresh off their impressive 49-14 destruction of then-No. 5 West Virginia, the Red Raiders should be on red alert.

Last October, they had a similar experience, beating then-No. 3 Oklahoma to snap the Sooners’ 39-game home winning streak. The problem was that they followed up with a 41-7 loss at home to Iowa State, which was the first of five consecutive defeats that sank a 5-7 season.

Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, who out Geno Smithed Geno Smith in the win over the cocky Mountaineers (32-of-42 for 499 yards and six touchdowns), will have his hands full with TCU in Fort Worth.

The Horned Frog defense leads the country with 14 interceptions and ranks within the top three in the Big 12 in total defense, pass defense and passing efficiency defense. That’s fairly impressive for a unit that had to replace more than half of its starters from last year. However, guess who tops the conference rankings in all three of those categories?

Yup, the Red Raiders, who yield only 143.7 yards through the air per game (fourth in the nation). New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman shouldn’t have to buy any meals in Lubbock.

Opening point spread: TCU by 3 1/2

The pick: Texas Tech 30-23

5) No. 2 Oregon at Arizona State
Thur., Oct. 18 — 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

The Sun Devil defense ranks within the nation’s top 10 in almost every defensive category, but those stats lie. The FBS teams that Arizona State has faced currently rank 114th, 111th, 105th, 103rd and 56th in total offense. Weakling California is that lone non-triple-digit winner of that lowly crew that’s a combined 11-22.

The Ducks, on the other hand, rank eighth in total offense, fourth in rushing and second in scoring.

That being said, everyone talks about Oregon’s high-powered offense. However, the catalyst for this year’s team is the return of the “Gang Green” defense, which has come up with four pick-six scores in the last three games.

ASU isn’t without weapons and does feature the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-12 (third nationally). Sophomore Taylor Kelly has been magnificent, but remains largely untested. Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC will take care of that in the next four weeks.

Put a fork in the Sun Devils. They’re done. With the ridiculous speed Oregon has on both sides of the ball, ASU will be happy to know that it isn’t scheduled to play the Ducks next season.

Opening point spread: Oregon by 12

The pick: Oregon 48-24

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

No. 21 Cincinnati at Toledo
Sat., Oct. 20 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Once again, the USOTW prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif.

Having disposed of the not-so-vaunted gauntlet of three directional schools from Michigan (Western, Central and Eastern), scoring 139 points in the process, Toledo is geared up for its biggest game of the season.

After beginning his first season at the helm of the Rockets with an overtime loss at Arizona, head coach Matt Campbell has won six straight, propelled by a juggernaut offense featuring a trio of junior playmakers – quarterback Terrance Owens, running back David Fluellen and wideout Bernard Reedy.

They’re well suited to attack a Bearcat defense that allows more than 250 passing yards per game. But the Toledo attack can’t abandon the run if it hopes to keep its banged-up defense off the field. Decimated by injuries along the defensive line, the Rockets will be tested by Cincinnati’s offensive firepower that has scored 101 points in the past two weeks.

With a full slate of Big East action on the horizon, the Bearcats, who are playing their first true road game of the season, won’t be nearly as amped as their MAC hosts, who boast a 4-1 record at the Glass Bowl against ranked opponents.

Opening point spread: Cincinnati by 5

The pick: Toledo 35-32

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 12 Florida State at Miami
Sat., Oct. 20 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

This rivalry used to be at the top of the pile. Now, not so much.

Michigan State at Michigan or Stanford at California could have worked its way into this spot, but the Brent & Herbie factor was used as the three-way tiebreaker.

Oddly enough, the Hurricanes haven’t won a home game versus the Seminoles since 2004, and they added the pressure of “homecoming” to this game.

The handicapping here is simple really. Since Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher arrived in Tallahassee in 2007, as offensive coordinator, the Seminoles are 20-1 when they rush for 200 or more yards.

Count on that happening. Only two teams in the country (Tulane [1-5] and Eastern Michigan [0-6]) are worse at defending the run than the Hurricanes, who surrender 253.7 yards per game on the ground.

Bettors ought to beware, however. Only one of the last 10 meetings in this series has been decided by more than eight points.

Opening point spread: Florida by 17 1/2

The pick: Florida State 34-20

A.J. Brown powers Ole Miss to Egg Bowl win over No. 15 Mississippi State

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No. 14 Mississippi State lost their quarterback, lost the game, lost the Egg Bowl trophy and lost a year’s worth of rivalry trash talk in one fell swoop on a chilly Thanksgiving evening at home. To add insult to injury, they lost all that at the hands of a Starkville native to boot as star receiver A.J. Brown powered Ole Miss to their sweetest victory of the year over their in-state rivals 31-28.

The Rebels needed just three plays and 39 seconds to open the scoring in what was perhaps the team’s best all-around game in several weeks, showing no signs of any tryptophan-induced sluggishness following a traditional turkey day meal. Brown finished the game with 167 yards receiving and a 77 yard touchdown to cap off a terrific return to his hometown in opposing colors, while tailback Jordan Wilkins also chipped in with another 110 yards and two scores on the ground to pace the offense.

The old Landshark defense also made an appearance, with the second worst team in all of FBS when it came to forcing turnovers managing to secure a whopping five turnovers and three sacks.

While the loss was undoubtedly disappointing for the Bulldogs, most of the team’s attention was on their star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. He entered the game on the verge of another 2,000 yard passing/1,000 yard rushing season but was tackled awkwardly on a three yard run early in the first quarter. Replays showed his ankle to be facing a much different direction than it should as part of a gruesome scene and the signal-caller was carted off to the team’s medical facilities shortly thereafter amid a raucous applause from fans on both sides.

Fitzgerald later returned to the sidelines to cheer on his teammates but it certainly appears that his promising season is over as Mississippi State turns their attention to a bowl game in the coming weeks.

Stepping in at quarterback was freshman Keytaon Thompson, who was much more of a threat with his legs than his arm until a few late drives. He finished the night with 195 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a team-high 121 yards rushing (with another score) in relief. Tailback Aeris Williams managed to rack up 82 yards and a score but faced a stacked line of scrimmage at every turn given the injury to his veteran teammate.

While the injury to Fitzgerald overshadowed the game, the backdrop of Ole Miss’ NCAA infractions case loomed large over the rivalry as much as the game itself. The two schools’ fan bases have been quite chippy and MSU linebacker Leo Lewis — a central figure in the case — was kept in check to the tune of two tackles and a half a sack as the Rebels didn’t attack him like some thought they would.

Perhaps more pressing to some Bulldogs fans is if that was the last Egg Bowl they would see with head coach Dan Mullen patrolling the sidelines. His name has been linked to openings at Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and others in the past few weeks and there is a growing expectation that the most successful coach in school history could have just donned the maroon and white for the final time in a loss.

That’s of no concern across the way as interim coach Matt Luke did a good job rallying the team to their sixth win of the season. The Rebels are not bowl eligible as part of self-imposed sanctions but the satisfaction of beating their rivals probably takes the sting out of that fact just a little bit, especially with a Starkville native like Brown leading the way on Thursday night.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald suffers gruesome ankle injury to spoil first half of the Egg Bowl

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The Egg Bowl has returned to Thanksgiving but the game hasn’t gone quite as planned for No. 14 Mississippi State, as they trail Ole Miss 10-6 after a low-scoring first half of play thanks to a shocking injury that brought both sides of the heated rivalry to their feet in unison.

That came early in the first quarter when Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was tackled after a three-yard run, suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the process that saw his foot point in a direction it certainly wasn’t supposed to. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field to perform x-rays immediately afterward and needless to say will not return to the game.

The productive signal-caller was just 1-of-5 passing with an interception and 16 yards rushing when he went down with the injury. Fitzgerald was approaching the 2,000 yard passing and 1,000 yard rushing marks for the season heading into the game and received plenty of support from his fellow football players around the SEC and beyond after suffering such a horrific-looking injury that appears to knock him out for the rest of 2017.

Freshman Keytaon Thompson replaced Fitzgerald behind center and went 3-of-5 passing for 32 yards and an interception. He’s known for his running ability at this stage and did manage a team-high 65 yards on the ground, including a 32 yard scamper. Running back Aeris Williams was fairly limited facing a stacked box against a new quarterback and ran for 41 yards in the half as turnovers (three of them) really hampered MSU in the half.

With Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play even if they won on Thursday night, it was not at all surprising to see the Rebels play better than they have in a long time. The team needed just three plays and 39 seconds on their opening possession to find the end zone and were punching far above their weight defensively too. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was the big play threat once again for the offense, with five catches and 90 yards after just a half of play. In the process, he set a new school single-season record for receiving yards and joined kicker Greg Wunderlich (all-time school leader in FG’s) in the record books for the visitors as they look to  get a little bit of payback for last year’s 55-20 loss in Oxford.

The two programs have split the last six meetings in the hotly contested Egg Bowl rivalry and both appear locked into another close one after a half of play. It’s too bad that an injury to an all-SEC player had to spoil things early on but both the Bulldogs and the Rebels will have to put that behind them as they emerge from the locker room hoping to secure a win after years worth of bad blood.

Odell Beckham Jr. gifts LSU players recently unveiled custom shoes ahead of regular season finale

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LSU has produced plenty of NFL stars in recent years but few identify with the Tigers quite like New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. does. The Baton Rouge native recently released his first “lifestyle” shoe with Nike last week and has been hitting the press circuit almost as hard as the rehab room as a result to showcase the new kicks.

Not one to forget where he went to school and blossomed into a first round pick, Beckham filmed a video for LSU’s football team this week and really gave the Tigers something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving by giving every player on the team a version of the shoe to wear when they’re suiting up in cleats.

The color isn’t quite a true match for LSU gold but it’s certainly pretty close and even comes with the longitude and latitude of Baton Rouge inscribed. You can probably bet that the team will be wearing them to Tiger Stadium prior to taking on Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular season finale for both sides.

Wisconsin breaking out the plaid in battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota

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No. 5 Wisconsin continues to play for an undefeated record and hold out hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff this week but the Badgers are also chasing something pretty important too when they take on Minnesota on Saturday: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. One of the best rivalry trophies in the sport has resided in Madison for the past 13 years but might carry on bigger implications given what’s at stake for the visitors when they arrive in Minneapolis, especially facing off against a Gophers team hoping to make it to a bowl game with another win.

Paul Chryst and company aren’t just treating this as any other Big Ten game however and teaming up with Under Armour to go well beyond ludicrous… and all the way to plaid. Well, “lumberjack plaid” to be precise, as the accents on their uniforms, gloves and shoes will all have a different spin on their normal colors.

While it’s a subtle difference, it is a pretty slick look for the Badgers as they take on their rivals. No word yet on what P.J. Fleck and the home team will break out in response but hopefully they rise to the occasion that the Axe commands.